Starr Linden and Andy Griffin stand on a gentle slope overlooking part of their sprawling Watsonville farm, each of them taking turns describing the process of creating the property’s centerpiece—a hand-built labyrinth of 3,000 fragrant lavender plants.
“This was a Covid project,” Griffin said proudly.
Using a tractor, string and a hand-drawn chart for guidance, the pair who own Mariquita Farm took about two years to construct the concentric circles of raised beds, all based on a 11-circuit medieval pattern.
The labyrinth has since drawn dozens of enthusiasts to the farm, including for World Labyrinth Day on May 6.
Griffin said the project was a way to fill the time after the pandemic temporarily dried up business at restaurants, which make up many of his customers.
But it was also a way to eschew the humdrum rows of traditional crops, he said. He adds that he hoped to give pilots flying into Watsonville Airport something beautiful to look down upon.
“We have grown herbs for a really long time, and we began branching out into doing more flowers,” he said. “A labyrinth like this is a fun way to plant the herbs, and we wanted to create an art work, a piece of earth art.”
Mariquita Farm also grows an eclectic variety of indigenous and unique fruits and vegetables, including a wild variety of tomatillo de milpa, Mongolian giant sunflowers, Oaxacan Chayote, Roman mint, corn, squash and beans.
They also grow marigolds, which are mainly used in Bay Area Buddhist and Hindu temples.
While lavender season has long since ended, visitors can see the farm during the upcoming Open Farm Tours on Oct. 7 and 8.
Every year, a handful of farms around Santa Cruz County open their doors for two days to give a behind-the-scenes glimpse at an industry that the public normally does not see.
The Open Farms Tour, now in its 10th year, is also a chance to meet the local producers who grow the food they buy in grocery stores and at farmers’ markets, and to encourage people to get their food from local, sustainable sources.
“Increasingly, our time, energy and money are spent on fast food made by automated corporate systems instead of people, which erodes the humanity of caring for each other through food,” said organizer Penny Ellis. “The tours give our community an opportunity to learn about how our food is grown, meet their farmers and learn why a sustainable agricultural system is crucial to the health and wellness of the Earth and each other.”
This year’s tour includes 12 farms, variously specializing in apples, flowers, fruits and vegetables.
These are Esperanza Community Farms, Fruitilicious Farm, Live Earth Farm, Sea To Sky Farm, Thomas Farm, Prevedelli Farms, Terra Sole Farm, Mariquita Farm, Beeline Blooms and Dos Aguilas olive grove and Pajaro Pastures Ranch.
In addition, ALBA (Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association) in Salinas is hosting a family farm day.
Beeline Blooms grows more than 300 varieties of dahlias and will offer bouquet making sessions.
Prevedelli Farms is hosting a barbecue and offering tastings of multiple varieties of apples. Visitors can also tour Prevedelli’s vast orchards. Live Earth Farm is offering U-pick apple, pumpkin and tomatoes.
Visitors to Sea To Sky Farm can see a Taiko drum concert in their redwood grove, in addition to tours and a potato and tomato U-Pick.
Dos Aguilas is offering olive curing presentations.
The annual Open Farm Tours is Oct. 7 and 8. Tickets range from $10–$20 per carload.
Mariquita Farm will host a Harvesting Culture Feast on Oct. 9 from 3-7pm, which will feature the indigenous cuisine of the region. Most of the food is grown specifically for this event.
For information and tickets, visit openfarmtours.com.